Sr. M. Lillian McCormack and St. Michael Special School child.
Sister Lillian, principal at St. Michael's Special School gave out Blue Roses to the Uncles in gratitude for their financial contributions and the wonderful, energetic, lively event of bringing Mardi Gras to the St. Michael's Auditorium.
St. Michael Special School is a Catholic School in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The program at St. Michael Special School is designed to help children with major difficulties in learning which make it most difficult for them to achieve successfully in regular schools.
For students over twenty-one, the program offers a sheltered activity center known as the Joy Center. The students deliver balloon bouquets to hospitals and businesses. They decorate for luncheons, parties, etc. They recycle carnival beads. They do limited contract work.
Uncles of St. Michael's
were instigated by Tony Fasola (the Meat-Man) because his daughter, Missy, was a resident student at St. Michael's in New Orleans. Parents of children with Downs Syndrome, and other special needs, were blessed by the support and care given at St. Michael's by Sr. Lillian , the nuns and the lay staff.
Both Sal Saia and Sweet Willie stepped up and organized the annual event as a Mardi Gras "Treat" to the "Kids" and each year before Mardi Gras, the Uncles and Aunts would gather at Sweet Willies starting at 10:a.m. dressed out in costumes. Screwdrivers and other beverages fortified the Krewe for the Mardi Gras Parade and Ball at St. Michael's.
It was customary for the Uncles to donate at least $100 each for a special Scholarship Program and as many as 60 to 100 Uncles would show up each year. Many were the same "old "faces. And always in the same costumery as Tony dictated "so that the Kids would remember you from year to year!"
More and more ladies began to participate through the years all decked out in stockings and furs.
Promptly at Noon, Sweet Willies would empty as a caravan of cars were assembled followed by the Sheriff's Convict Bus which carted the Aunts and Ladies, and Motorcycle deputies escorted the motorcade from Metairie to downtown New Orleans at Race Street off Annunciation Park.
One time, while in escort, a Deputy on his cycle, streamed full engine into the path of traffic descending the Causeway Overpass at Veterans. He calmly raised up his arm palm outward, as an 18-wheeler slammed on its brakes, tires screeching and burning smoke, to stop within an inch of the Deputy who didn't raise a sweat on his brow.
The Motorcycle escorts were never the same officer, and even though given directions to get to Chippewa Street and Race Street, deep in the bowels of the bend in the River, invariably, these navigators got lost. Then, the drivers in the motorcade would take off in every direction on their own to finally drift into St. Michael's.
Once there, the motorcycle deputies roared their bikes into the Auditorium hallway announcing our presence. We would take ten or more turns around the gymnasium tossing our beads and throws to all the "kids" gathered there. Sometimes numbering four or five hundred. We were able to refill our throws as the ladies and a few other volunteers who were not costumed would arm us with new braces of beads and knickknacks.
These mentally challenged kids always loved to get a hug and an embrace as we paraded by them.
The Finale was the heralding of the King and Queen of the "Kids Kourt" when Tony Fazola, or Sam Saia would dole out a nice size check of several thousand to present to Sister Lill. She was always gracious and handed out blue roses to each of the Uncles.
The Day was yet not over. We then proceeded to a quaint barroom in the Irish Channel operated by Pete Schrier, known as the Out Cold Bar on the corner of Sixth and Chippewa streets. The bar had stools and three tables with chairs. The women usually scooped up the chairs as the men gathered at the bar and outside at the curbing due to over-crowdedness. There was a juke box and music was played throughout as a number of us would dance with the ladies. Drinks were poured by the asking and pizzas and potato chips were hungrily gorged. After a two-hour stint, the men were assessed their share by chipping in $25 to $35 for the afternoon break.
The day was still not over. Usually we would meet at Sal & Sam's or some other designated place to have a wrap-up Friendship Supper and more drinks, and more drinks, and more drinks. Again the ladies enjoyed a free social as the men pooled their resources to pay the final tab.
Sweet Willie, in June 2009, stated that the Uncles donated $14,000 during that past Mardi Gras.